- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

1:18 p.m.

BEIJING — A Chinese envoy met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and delivered a personal message from President Hu Jintao today in the highest-level Chinese visit to its isolated ally since the North’s nuclear test last week.

A North Korean general, meanwhile, told ABC News that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons were defensive only and would not be sold to third parties, but he added that war on the peninsula is inevitable if President Bush continues to ask the country to “kneel.”

The meeting with Mr. Kim by State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was making an Asian tour to push for cooperation in enforcing U.N. sanctions over the North’s Oct. 9 blast and amid signs that Pyongyang may be preparing a second atomic test.

Miss Rice said the United States wants to lower tensions, not aggravate them.

“We want to leave open the path of negotiation. We don’t want the crisis to escalate,” she told reporters in Seoul.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said he had no details of the message conveyed by Mr. Tang in Pyongyang but that Mr. Kim and the diplomat had “in-depth discussions” about the nuclear dispute. North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Mr. Tang also brought a gift for Mr. Kim but did not say what it was.

Mr. Tang’s trip might be a way for Beijing to express frustration at the test and warn against conducting any more while wooing it back to six-party talks on the North’s nuclear program.

However, relations between North Korea and China, the main source of food and fuel aid to North Korea’s decrepit economy, have deteriorated in recent years, and Beijing’s influence over Pyongyang appears to be eroding.

“This is a very significant visit, against the backdrop of major changes on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Liu said at a regular news briefing. “We hope China’s diplomatic efforts … will bear fruit.”

Washington hoped Mr. Tang delivered a stern warning to the North Koreans about more atomic blasts, said a senior U.S. official speaking to reporters about Miss Rice’s plane as she traveled to Seoul from Tokyo.

“I’m pretty convinced that the Chinese will have a very strong message about future tests,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

A day after Mr. Bush said Pyongyang would face “a grave consequence” if it transferred nuclear weapons to Iran or al Qaeda, North Korean Gen. Ri Chan Bok told ABC that the arms were to defend the country and not to earn money or be transferred to third parties.

“We have nuclear weapons to defend our country and our people,” said Mr. Ri, chief of the Korean People’s Army Panmunjom mission.

Mr. Ri said Mr. Bush wants North Korea to “kneel” but that the communist country cannot agree to that. If that continues, he said, “war will be inevitable,” ABC correspondent Diane Sawyer quoted Mr. Ri as saying.

Discussions involving the United States, host China, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia have been stalled for a year because of a boycott by the North over U.S. financial sanctions.

Miss Rice was to arrive in Beijing tomorrow for meetings with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and other Chinese officials.

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